On Friday, Jan. 30, all Skidmore students received an email from Student Government Association (SGA) President Addison Bennett ’16, that announced the new student constitution. “After more than a year of work with students, President Glotzbach and his Cabinet, and the entire College, the SGA Senate has unanimously approved a new Constitution for the Student Body,” Bennett wrote in his email.
The work on forming this new constitution began over a year ago during Fall 2013, as a project that SGA Vice President for Financial Affairs, Sam Harris ’15 and Bennett took on. Together they worked to identify what they felt to be the most important values and the biggest flaws. Then they worked to establish a document and structure that would reflect the need to adapt.
Harris and Bennett also sought advice from students through SGA Town Hall meetings, SGA committees, discussions in the SGA Senate and a special SGA group that worked on the Constitution. Other faculty members and staff including President Glotzbach were also consulted, definitely making this a group effort.
“This document is written for one purpose: to establish a new structure of student representation that allows student representatives to be more accessible and responsive to what you need from your College,” Bennett wrote. “It will allow us to more effectively do our job of creating programs and supporting the policies that build our vibrant campus life.”
“As members of the SGA Executive Committee for a combined five years, Sam Harris and I ran into a lot of obstacles and problems related to our current constitution,” said Bennett. Which is part of the reason that led to the formulation of a new constitution. “Its most important flaw is in its construction: the document is 17 pages worth of operating codes, membership requirements, and generally unclear and uninspiring lists,” Bennett said. According to Bennett, this is a problem because he feels this is “why students often find it difficult to engage with [SGA], and we want to do something about it.”
The new constitution is much shorter at only eight pages long, and according to Bennett it will help SGA adapt to the changing times.
Making the constitution shorter is only a fraction of what was changed. Exact sections, wordings, roles and aspects were also altered. One of the other changes was the addition of a new position on the SGA executive committee. This position is the Executive Vice President, and fundamentally they will be the SGA “number two person.” “The Executive VP's job will mostly be helping represent SGA to the administration, filling in for the President when necessary, coordinating strategic initiatives, and ensuring sustainability across all initiatives,” said Bennett.
The number and position of senators that are a part of the SGA senate were also changed in the new constitution. Currently the majority of the senators that are a part of the SGA Senate are known as general senators at large. This will not be the case next year. Instead there will be four class senators per grade; one senator from each residential life area, and the class president for each class will also serve as a senator. The class-based senators were added because “currently, the first year class has three senators, and we decided we really liked the class-based constituency idea,” Bennett said. They were also added because currently the senators at large represent the whole student body and according to Bennett this makes it hard to represent and hard for outreach efforts. The residential life senators are a new position that were added because they “will be able to represent people who they actually know, and they'll have the ability to advocate for specific interests of their residents,” Bennett said. “I believe that we can use these new positions to help foster a new residential, community-based student life at Skidmore in a way that I feel we're currently lacking,” Bennett also said.
Details on aspects such as the SGA committees were removed from the new constitution and will be included in a separate but accompanying set of bylaws. According to Bennett this was done because “we don't want to run a special election to amend the constitution every time we want to mess with the membership of a single committee.”
Though hard work and countless hours may have been put into creating the new constitution nothing is official yet. In early March before spring break, all students will get the chance to vote in a special election, with one question on the ballet. The question will ask “do you support the new Constitution for the Student Body?” Whether you think these changes are great or not get ready to have your opinion heard. If the new constitution is approved it will go into effect immediately following this years commencement.
Until this election, students can keep their eyes out for a special outreach and education campaign called, "Get out the vote" that will soon be announced. This will help educate students on this issue before they vote. “We don’t want anyone to be surprised on election day,” Bennett said.
Overall Bennett feels that “the most important thing is we want to create a constitution that allows students to act within Skidmore and make change.”